I had a blog brewing within me before I saw the news about Jan Crouch’s stroke a few days ago. When I saw it, I knew she was going to die. I can’t explain how I knew it, except to say that I have had my eye on several other older preachers who I thought were a lot further toward the death front than she was who seem to keep holding on. When I saw the news she had her stroke, I knew that it was over. Another preacher from a bygone era, one that popularized prosperity preachers and over-the-top lifestyles for Christians was now gone, further proof that the “shifts” we all constantly seem to want to talk about or try to push ourselves into has yet come into existence.
In other words: What we are always talking about, hoping will come, want to see come to pass, is now already here. We just keep missing it because we are too busy holding on to what was, the long-lost images, the days when people felt TBN was legitimate, the new ideals and concepts that had yet to come to pass, and the concepts, the hope, the promises that we still believed in. Now, despite the realities that the promises were made did not come to pass for the average person, the hope for many is lost, and hasn’t been replaced by anything substantial has left a feeling of “fluff,” something that causes people to desire to look back, to hope back, to want something else.
John 1:24-28: Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (NASB)
John 4:19-26: The woman said to Him, “ Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (NASB)
I can’t help but reflect upon the verse above, and hear us, today, in that passage. In the first century, the Jews and the Samaritans had a specific concept about what the Messiah would look like and how He would be. Jesus didn’t meet with that image, so when He stood there, staring them in the face, they had no clue that what they sought was right in front of them. They were interested in the old, the traditions, the way they’d been told it would be, and instead of embracing that God’s movements have nothing to do with what we think, they held so tight, they missed what was staring them in the face.
Despite all the talk about “new” all the time, we seem to have an unhealthy preoccupation with the old. We talk about the past days of the church in misty-eyed remembrances, almost as if a certain reminiscing goes along with the nostalgia of the “good ol’ church days.” We remember summertime revivals (we forgot how hot and uncomfortable they were), we remember the way that people were with their leaders (we forgot how controlling and domineering some of them were), we remember how touched we were by the Christian life we led (we forgot how limited we felt by rules as pertained to our hair, our attire, not being able to wear shorts or pants, or make-up or jewelry), and we remember those moments of “Holy Ghost-filled power” that we thought would never end (we forgot how brother or sister so-and-so sleazed up against us at that moment or how many of them never came back). No. We remember in shades, in black-and-white versus color; glossing over the histories of many who were in leadership, who were important or larger-than-life, and our own personal histories somehow get just as shadowed out, not remembering the realities about those who were around us, what we experienced, or how we really felt about those times.
As a result, I am seeing a sort of yearning for those “days” present in preaching today. We want hard preachers, dramatic preachers, sing-song preachers drenched in sweat, who tickle our ears, tickle our fancies, and appear to have an old-time, “Holiness or hell” message. Since things are different now, that has to be the way it should be, right? That has to be the answer, the thing to do is go back, instead of go forward. We aren’t going to embrace anyone new or different (since any time anyone says they are different, that’s just code for “exactly the same.”), because to do so would mean all those old things we did, all those old things we were, all those dear memories…weren’t so dear, after all.
The reality of those old days: they weren’t that great. They had their drawbacks. We complained through them, just like we complained through today. We were looking for something after the newness of what we were experiencing finally wore off. We were left with the same empty feeling when someone else seemed to do better in their faith than we did, and we were disappointed when someone didn’t get their healing or the things they had hoped to receive. We were still green with envy when Sister SuperChristian got promoted at church and we didn’t, and we still felt the same injustices, impartialities, and unfairness that we feel in church, now. Those good ol’ days didn’t solve these problems or issue us into an era when we had solutions for them, and they left us…hanging…seeking…searching…and without good answers that weren’t recycled church nonsense, spoken time and time again to keep us coming back, yet empty, at the same time.
God doesn’t desire that we remain in such a state, dependent on trite, cute sayings that don’t solve our problems. It isn’t His will that we remain Biblically illiterate, relying on archaic translations that we don’t understand and a few arbitrarily placed Bible verses quoted over and over again, with no meaning. It isn’t His will that the gifts are so voided of power, we actually get bored when people start manufacturing them at services. It isn’t His will that someone, like me, is downright bored most of the time at other churches because I know the same, predictable old-school style will flow, without fail, and without any power.
I am finally at a point in my life where I am embracing the reality that I have never been an “old school” preacher. I did try to embody and receive such in my life at an earlier time, but it never really worked. I’ve never been into collars or robes (you’ll get me in them only for ordinations, weddings and funerals) and I’ve never been a sing-song preacher. It’s hard enough to get up there and hear from God, let alone try to make a dramatic performance out of it. I think I tried to make the “old school” label work for me because what I saw around me didn’t fit me, either, so I assumed that the style and values I embodied had to be from an earlier time. Truth be told, I know “holiness or hell” never worked, even though someone did describe me like that once upon a time, they didn’t know me very well and I actually took offense to the reference. Sure, I have tried to be more dramatic or more of something else in my preaching, but it was never me. The only way I have ever been “me” in the pulpit is if I did and said what God would have me to say, and trust that however it comes out, it will fit being “all things to all people” for whoever would receive it. Sometimes I was more excited than others, sometimes more quiet, but in all seasons, the best messages have always been those that embraced the leader that I am, as myself.
So it’s meant that my sermons on pop culture references, slang terms that we embody one to another (considered unfit for the pulpit), song lyrics, and inspired ways of interpreting the Bible might not be for many churchgoers who refuse to let go of these older ideals and ways. It means that I’m not going to preach in their churches. It means they aren’t going to receive what I have to say. I’m not old school, I’m not new school; I am something else, something that moves and shifts with the Kingdom, intensely attentive to changes in spiritual times and seasons, who wants to be a part of what God wants to do now, rather than earlier. It’s having the ability to see karios time, not just what we see in the natural with our eyes. It’s time to preach something eternal, rather than moving from temporary shift to shift.
As I prepare to do an ordination this week, I realize how much things have changed, not just for me, but for all of us. Good, bad, or indifferent, Jan Crouch is dead. How she lived and what she embodied is not between her and us anymore; it’s between her and God. The era she was a part of, good, bad, or indifferent, is over, too. It’s a new season; it’s a new time. We can’t embrace what God is doing if we refuse to let go of those older times, of the memories and the not-so-accurate histories we keep dear to our hearts. The seasons have shifted. The things we keep looking for have already come. We aren’t embracing them because they don’t come in the package, in the way we expect, because we are looking at things too natural, too temporal. If we keep looking at things from the temporal view, we are never going to see the depth of what God is bringing to focus in this time.
I might not be traditional, but I am here, and as I look over at my silver and black dotted robe and zebra print shoes to wear to the ordination this weekend, I feel the shaking, the shifting, the movement. It’s not what we expect. It’s not what we want. It’s not what’s been done before.
Ready or not, change is here…and it’s staring you in the face.
© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.